Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Re-Evaluated // Without Feathers

July 21st, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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The Stills made a name for themselves in Canadian indie rock in 2003 with their excellent debut album Logic Will Break Your Heart. Riding the post-punk wave of the time that Interpol more or less kicked off, The Stills were also lucky enough to benefit from all the press that Montreal got around that time, as bands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and Stars brought the French-Canadian metropolis to international musical attention again years after Godspeed You! Black Emperor put it on the map.

Thinking themselves clever and knowing that interest in post-punk was waning, the band switched horses for their second album, Without Feathers, dropping the dark 80s vibe and instead attempting to write something along the lines of a Canadian indie rock-pop album for the road weary. The critics were not impressed. Nobody was really. This was not The Stills we knew and loved and most didn’t really know what to make of the album.

For album three, Oceans Will Rise, the band tried to come back in a big way, signing to the beloved Arts & Crafts label and apparently hooking up with some very trendy industry stylists, but it was only to put out an album that, though not entirely devoid of charm, lacked the soul and cohesion of their previous albums (despite this, it won the meaningless Juno award for Alternative Album Of The Year). Then The Stills broke up. Without Feathers was where everything went wrong. And it’s a real shame, because it’s actually a pretty solid album.

Without Feathers is not as cool as Logic…, but it does have more heart.  With former drummer Dave Hemelin taking lead vocal duty, the album seems to have some kind of conceptual bent to it, with songs with titles like “In The Beginning”, “In The End”, and “Outro” (oddly enough, the last two appear in the middle of the album). I have no idea what the ‘story’ would be, but the album always feels like it’s going somewhere, like there’s some kind of progression that takes place from one song to the next (though most sound pretty similar), until it reaches the melancholic melodica of “The House We Live In”, which leads the album out with the beautiful “Dear Sarah/The house we live in/Is all I know.” And the band always sounds more alive, more real than on Logic, as if this was the sound they decided was really right for them now (before listeners (perhaps in pure knee-jerk fashion) decided it wasn’t) and everyone was really excited to have found it.

Another thing that makes the album special is how Hamelin’s vocal melodies always seem to be moving upwards, euphorically. His voice is maybe a little thinner than once-and-soon-to-be-again lead vocalist Tim Fletcher, but it’s more authentic, and his singing feels more alive.

I don’t think I got around to even listening to Without Feathers until a year or two after its release in 2006. But the first time I did, I immediately loved it and knew it was just a victim of expectations. They say time heals – I think it’s time this album’s reputation was healed as well. Admittedly it sounds a little square in 2014, as indie rock has fractured to a certain extent into the experimental post-Merrweather deep end and more ‘mindie’-minded acts, but if you still have a soft-spot for the sounds of mid-2000s Canadian indie, Without Feathers is an overlooked gem.

Records And Tapes From My Trip Across America

July 3rd, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Whenever I go on a trip, I try to pick up some cool stuff from wherever I visit, whether its zines or comics or records or whatever. I want something local or just plain weird that I couldn’t just find everywhere. I recently took a two month trip across America, and in almost every city I tried to get something little to have as a keepsake. It could be just a sticker from the Third Man Store in Nashville, or a fridge magnet from the Sub Pop store in the Seattle airport, but I just wanted something that I could look at or listen to later and be like, “I remember where I got that.”

In almost every city we went to I tried to hit up the record store(s) to see if anything looked too cool to pass up on. If I were a less restrained person I would have bought wayyyy more shit, but I limited myself to just a couple picks that were reasonably priced. Here are the unique records and tapes I picked up and the fairly average stories behind them, presented in chronological order of when I bought them.

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PlainsBirthday Island (cassette)

The kind of hipster part of Nashville is East Nashville, which is luckily where we were staying at a nice couple’s house via Airbnb. We didn’t even plan it like that, it just worked out that way. There was a little strip of store nearby with a vegan restaurant and clothing stores and a little records and guitar shop. I saw this tape on the wall for $4 and, caught by the art and colours, asked what it sounded like. The guy in the store told me it was some dude in Alabama and it was sort of ‘party rock’ or something. It is, but it’s off kilter and cool and goofy ‘party rock’.

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Long Legged WomanNobody Knows This Is Nowhere (LP)

Athens, Georgia is known for having a great music scene. It started back in the 80s with REM and the B-52s and continues to this day with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Of Montreal. Going through the locals section at legendary record store Wuxtry Records – where Michael Stipe and Peter Buck apparently met and talked about music – I came across this beautiful screen printed cardboard jacket. I checked out the band online and loved the dirty, feral sound – that actually is pretty well matched by the cover – so I picked it up for $15.

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Natural BlondeS/T (cassette)

This is a really cool little EP I picked up at New Orleans’ Euclid Records, I great store that actually was located on the street we were staying on. It’s kind of hazey, 90s-ish indie rock. It was also just $4 at the store.

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Portland Bike EnsembleS/T (LP)

I found this album in a cool record store in San Francisco, the name of which I forget. I was actually leaning towards a collection of old Algerian pop songs that the guy was playing in the store, but as the record played on, I felt it got too shmaltzy and decided I didn’t want it. I saw this crazy cover and thought it looked interesting. I also saw that it was put out by Olde English Spelling Bee, which I knew to be a pretty cool label. It was also only $10. I thought it was going to be some cool group from Portland playing weird, interesting, Portland-y songs, maybe not unlike Oregon Bike Trails, but when I took the record back to where we staying and was able to hear some of it (now that I had access to Wi-Fi on my phone), I realized this was actually a group that played bicycles as instruments. Not even in like a cool Blue Man Group, actually-making-music way, but in a ridiculously Portlandia-tastic way, in which they just bang on bicycles and record the sounds as some ‘avant garde’ shit. I actually wanted to return it and get something else, but I just didn’t have time. So now if I’m ever chilling and want to hear the sounds of weird people banging on bicycles, I have this record to satisfy that desire.

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VariousBlack Plastic Singing Flats Volume II (cassette)

Something about San Francisco didn’t sit right with me, so my second day in the Bay Area I went to explore Oakland, which I heard is kind of like the Brooklyn to San Fran’s Manhattan (and this is sort of true, but not totally). I actually really liked Oakland and had a better time there than in San Fran, and while I was there I checked out another great record store called Jam Econo Records. They had a big cassette rack on the wall and the cover of this caught my eye. I asked if I could listen to it and luckily the store had a stereo system with headphones where you could ‘try before you buy’. This 23-song cassette is full of awesome Asian pop songs from the 60s and maybe 70s, featuring badass orchestras and fuzz guitar and a lot of great combinations of Asian and Western sounds of the time. I listened to a couple songs and loved almost every one, I can’t wait to listen to the whole thing (but I need to buy a new cassette player first).

(Note: This is off volume 1 of the Black Plastic Singing Flats comps, but this is what volume II sounds like for the most part too. I couldn’t find any of volume II online.)

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VariousThose Shocking Shaking Days (LP)

I saw this at a record store in Olympia. It’s a compilation of hard, psychedelic, progressive rock and funk from Indonesia in the 70s. I’ve been interested in weird international music for a while now, and they were having a sale on vinyl compilations, so even though this was the second most expensive record purchase of the trip at $24, it was marked down from around $30 (they’re usually pretty expensive) making it a relatively good deal. It’s a triple-disc set with a detailed booklet about the songs, the artists, and the politically turbulent times in which the music was made. Even a cursory listen to what’s on YouTube from it will tell you that it’s excellent. Perhaps the best purchase of the trip.

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RoachclipDiscovery Park (LP)

We were only in Detroit for a couple hours, but luckily there was a record store close to the Greyhound station, so I was able to walk over and check out some local records there while we waited for our bus back to Toronto. Turns out that even though the city is basically dead and decrepit, the Detroit music scene, which has been responsible for so many great things over the years, from Motown to The MC5 to Eminem and The White Stripes, is still going strong. I asked them to put on a couple local tapes and records for me and I liked all of them, but eventually decided to go with this one, which had a real ramshackle charm and was just $12. The guy in the store, before playing the record for me, told me it sounded kind of like the Velvet Underground and that would be a correct comparison. It’s got that kind of chugginess to it, but it’s very loose and cool and fun.

I actually have a couple more tapes and another record that I got for free or whatever, but I’m not sure if they’re interesting enough to even write about. I did pick up the new My Bloody Valentine album used (somehow) but in perfect condition in Seattle for $25 (compared to the going price of $39.99 new everywhere) but everyone knows about that one, no point writing more about it. So yeah, it was a great trip, good times, good food, good people, and some very good music :)

Re-Evaluated // Laced With Romance

April 22nd, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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The musical maturation of myself and my friends came during a period hailed as the ‘garage rock revival’. It was the early 2000s. There was no war, the American economy was in good shape, and bunch of badass new rock bands like The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, and many more were bringing rock back from the dead. The music wasn’t ‘alt’ or what was then known as ‘modern rock’, but rather, these bands looked towards the great rockers of the past like The Velvet Underground, Television, The Stooges, and The MC5, and they made something modern and interesting of their influences. You probably remember it, unless you’re in your teens now or younger.

At the time, all these bands seemed so cool and cutting edge – in retrospect, much of it was a lot more polished and accessible than most of today’s more ‘far out’, experimental indie rock. In any case, they clearly ushered in a new interest in rock music that would then morph into the indie rock of today through the changes brought about with the popularity of bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Bon Iver, and, of course, many more.

In the course of indie rock’s relentless forward drive, some bands managed to keep pace, while others either got left behind or just lost in the shuffle. The Ponys were a great band from Chicago that attracted some attention back during the garage rock revival and apparently hit their popular peak as late as 2007 with the release of their third album on Matador before taking an ill-advised two years off. While their sound and the production of their albums sounds very much from that time, they were always a lot more interesting than many of their peers. Their sound had some great distinguishing features, like the booming voice of Jered Gummere and their spiked, almost-shoegazey guitar sound. Unfortunately, they fell into the category of bands that seemingly got lost in the shuffle. Today, I’m not sure how many of my friends and music-oriented acquaintances would even recognize their name. No one ever seems to write or talk about them. And today they no longer exist, with frontman Gummere now leading Bare Mutants, and guitarist Brian Case a member of Dissapears. I don’t know what the other members are up to.

So since nobody’s talking about them anymore, I’m going to talk (or write) about them, because they made some really cool music, most notably their first album, Laced With Romance. While all their albums are pretty good, Laced With Romance, produced by Jim Diamond (best known for his work on The White Stripes‘ first two albums), is the one that packs the most punch (and reverb). On later albums they sound less interesting, less assured, and their songs less urgent, exciting. Laced With Romance burst out the gate with the tongue in cheek “Let’s Kill Ourselves” and kills it all the way through the Phil Spector put-on “Fall Inn”, the red light “Chemical Imbalance”, and the snarky “I Only Love You Because You Look Like Me”. These songs are kind of classics, or at least feel like it.

Admittedly the album doesn’t have that bareness that’s kept their peers’ albums like Get Behind Me Satan and Room On Fire from aging badly. And, if released today, it would sound just not quite right. But it’s still a great album, especially if like me, you look back on that time and place in rock music fondly.

Kazoo! Fest: Day 4 & 5 (12/04/14, 13/04/14)

April 14th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Saturday was the most action-packed day of the festival, so let’s get right in.

After waking up groggily, eating some bread & hummus and doing a quick workout, I made my way over to the Kazoo! Print Expo for the last hour (it ended at 3:00 pm). It was a pretty standard print expo type deal, with a lot of great artists and zinesters with their prints, zines, comics, silkscreens, etc. Koyama Press and Liz Worth (Treat Me Like Dirt, PostApoc) were notably there with their works. I ended up getting two issues of a short comic called Dumb by Georgia Webber. The ‘series’ is about her ‘prolongued voice loss, and the slow crawl of recovery’. There’s not a ton of story in the two short issues, but the art style is cool and minimal and it is kind of interesting to see how voice loss affects her whole life. She has to quite her job and go on welfare and it’s just not a great situation. Hope she recovers soon and her life can get back to normal – in the meantime, I hope she writes longer comics or combines more issues into one kind of graphic novel, because my biggest complaint is that the issues are too short.

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There’s a dude inside this.

After the print expo I was off to a cool little space called Silence to see the Nihilist Spasm Band, perhaps the longest running noise band in the world. Originating in London, Ontario, the band has been together since 1965. They looked like the coolest, craziest grandparents in the world playing for a bunch of twenty-something/thirty-something hipsters. Admittedly, noise bands aren’t really my thing, so while I totally respected their ability to pull it off so stylishly (there is an art to noise-making – some are better at it than others), I didn’t need to hear that much before I was ready to leave.

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Unfortunately, this picture doesn’t quite capture the storm of sound they were making. Try the clip below from their younger days.

Next stop: My Own Shortcomings ‘mixed media exhibition by Hugh Mater‘. There wasn’t really that much mixing of media other than a dude playing old singles played at the wrong speed (slow, which actually made them sound pretty interesting), but there was some cool art. I’m not an art critic, but I liked it. Here are some pictures.

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After a breather and a curry wrap, it was time for EONS at the Red Brick Cafe. The solo project of Bruce Peninsula‘s Matt Cully, EONS‘ music is very traditional folk. Helping him out with pitch-perfect harmonies (and impressively snappy jibes) was another Bruce Peninsula member, Misha Bower. While EONS was maybe too traditionally folk for my tastes, their songs were well-crafted, tuneful, lyrically sound, and their performance was likewise faultless.

After another break for food, I was off to Cornerstone for Guelph’s Shopkeeper, a band I can describe most succinctly as being very ‘Canadian indie-rock’-sounding. Which is a good thing. It’s comforting, homey, Canadian.

And finally, the act of the night that I’d been waiting for, Mike Feuerstack: an artist who’d be a millionaire if critical praise could be converted into cash. I’ve written a lot about Feuerstack over the years, having loved his work with The Wooden Stars (Julie Doiron and The Wooden Stars is a classic), his work under the Snailhouse pseudonym, and most recently his work under his own name. When I was in the IDF, I remember listening to him obsessively while stationed on the Syrian border, as his work also sounds very ‘Canadian indie’ and it reminded me of home sweet snowy home.

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I’ve seen him play twice before. This time he was playing solo with an electric guitar and a beautiful sounding tube amp. Far moreso than Bry Webb and Destroyer – the other bigger names who played solo for the fest – Feuerstack’s songs lose the least when performed sans backing. Sure, on his records there’s a lot of beautiful padding, but most of his songs only require a guitar and vocals to sound full and perfect. And despite him charmingly forgetting lyrics and chords a couple times, Feuerstack effortless kills it every performance. With his sensitive cooing voice, and song after song full of pretty hooks and chord changes, he doesn’t need to try to perform well at this point in his career, he just does.

At this point, after two nights out till the wee small hours and couch-crashing, I was pretty beat. I soldiered on to Jimmy Jazz to check out explosive punk instrumentalists Bleet – who were phenomenal – but a couple songs in I decided to call it a night.

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The next morning there was a pancake breakfast show co-presented by Weird Canada. This was a brilliant way to end the fest, as all the artists and volunteers and frequent faces of the fest congregated together – many with their little kids – and just chilled, talked, ate pancakes (including vegan ones!). I caught experimental acts Eden Segal-Grossman and Isla Craig (pictured above), but their music – solid as it was – was more a background for good vibes and great food. Every festival should end like this.

And so the time came for me to trudge on over to the GO bus station and grab the bus back to Toronto. It had been an incredible weekend. Though Kazoo! Fest was perhaps a festival with a limited budget – all of the biggest acts played without their backing bands – it made up in heart and quality what it lacked in cash. Guelph is small but charming, with lots of friendly, interesting, intelligent people, and a ratio of women:men that puts the perennial sausage-fest that is Toronto’s downtown scene to shame. Every show was well-attended and people came out ready and willing to make friends and become fans. Though by this time next year I’ll be living in New York, maybe I’ll even make the trek up to the great white North to see what happens for next Kazoo! Fest.

Kazoo! Fest: Day 3 (11/04/14)

April 12th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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The third day of the festival was most notable for featuring the two biggest acts of the festival: Bry Webb (of Constantines) and Destroyer. Both played acoustic sets in the Dublin St. United Church – indeed, a pretty nice setting for acoustic stuff.

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The kick-off event of the night, the show began at eight with Bry Webb‘s set. Accompanied by Rich Burnett on lap steel guitar, Webb played a set of songs that one could reasonably presume were off his first solo album Provider and the upcoming Free Will (I haven’t heard anything off either). While the songs were fairly solid folk-ish tunes – admittedly lacking in hooks and a particularly strong flavour (though the more fleshed out recordings sound far more rustic) – Webb’s wonderfully full and mature voice – still one of the best voices in contemporary indie rock – was clearly the biggest asset on display. As phenomenal as he is tearing up his vocal chords in front of the powerhouse that is Constantines onstage (and in-studio), he sounds nearly as good on his own, and it doesn’t hurt that his lyrics are particularly inspired regardless of backing, setting, whatever.

I’ve seen Destroyer play two or three times now, both solo acoustic and with a full band. While he’s charming on his own, the fact is he is incomparably better accompanied by his backing band. Some of the earlier material  - anything pre-Your Blues - sounds more or less fine acoustic, but anything after – especially everything off 2011′s incredible Kaputt – lacks all the nuances and melodies that his band provides and simply sound skeletal and lacking. I’ve yet to see Dan Bejar give a bad performance, but the fact is that an acoustic Destroyer set is a compromise in place of the ‘real thing’.

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After a peak into the packed eBar to catch a couple minutes of the jazzy Manatee, I made my way over to Jimmy Jazz to catch some of Watershed Hour‘s set. The Whitby all-girl duo featured one 90′s haired chick storming the drum kit in true 90′s alt-rock fashion while another alternated between bass and guitar while valiantly attempting to manage her pedals with her toes. It was pretty chaotic and sounded like crazy kids going nuts with their ‘rock and roll musics’ in the garage, but their conviction was admirable and ultimately made for a good show. Unfortunately, their poorly-produced online recordings capture almost nothing of this.

Back over at eBar, Petra Glynt took the stage to deliver her whole weird solo sample-core shtick. This was the second time I’ve seen her and while I respect her experimentalism, I’m still not really enjoying it. That could change at some point in the future, though. I like her ideas and general vision – and I didn’t totally come around to the not-entirely-dissimilar Grimes until she put out her game-changing Visions in 2012.

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Toronto’s DIANA closed the night with one of the best performances of the festival. I’ve been a fan of lead-singer Carmen Elle for years and it was great to see her new band live for the first time after enjoying their album Perpetual Surrender for the last couple months. They got on pretty late and eBar wasn’t quite as packed as it had been earlier, but DIANA brought no shortage of energy and character to a faultless set of songs. Kieran Adams‘ live electronic percussion was especially amazing.

Kazoo! Fest: Day 2 (10/04/14)

April 11th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Unfortunately I missed the first day of Guelph’s charming Kazoo! Fest, but I got in yesterday (Thursday) to begin my coverage of the five-day-long (sort of) fest and so far it’s been fun.

The first event was a showcase for some video works, including one with a live score.

Taking place inside of the quaint St. Andrew’s Church, the showcase began with The Impermanence Of The Ordinary, a short film about photographer Patrick Cummins‘ work photographing Toronto’s houses and storefronts as they change over time. Cummins was present to introduce the film, which was an interesting look at, indeed, a very ordinary subject that, upon closer inspection, inspires some interesting thoughts about what the architecture of a city says about its history, culture and architecture as it changes over time. You can actually watch it in its entirety on Vimeo.

The second film of the night, and my favourite, was This Is Now Here, Toronto-based photographer and music video director Colin Medley‘s short film about the Sackville, New Brunswick music scene and its annual Stereophonic FestivalFeist once spoke in an interview about how one can only truly appreciate Canada if one sees the great empty spaces and small towns between the big cities. These words were already echoing in my head as I rode the bus from Toronto to Guelph, and this film fit in well with the idea. Indeed, there is something beautiful and romantic in the glimpses someone from the city gets of small town (or small city) life in the relatively empty spaces of the great white North. Medley’s film portrays Sackville as this tiny, snowy little town in the lonesome Maritime where a bunch of University kids get together and make really cool music in small, intimate spaces. Huddled together in badly lit rooms, toques and scarves still on, the kids in the video appeared to truly have a secret but wonderful little scene of interesting and inspired noisemakers. Visually touching, with a perfectly restrained ambient score by Mike Smith, Medley’s film is a snow-covered gem of beautiful Canadiana. Luckily, it’s also streaming in its entirety on Vimeo.

The last work of the event was called Foster and was an experimental video soundtracked by a live band. Admittedly, the video itself was not all that impressive, as it largely consisted of random stuttering footage of ordinary thing (walls, basements, people), a hick-ish seeming Canadian, and kaleidoscopic effects. Maybe it was meant to be some kind of Gummo-esque look at a small town Canadian guy – I’m not really sure. The live band, however, was excellent, ably providing a phenomenal post-rock score with different sections and shifting rhythms (pounded out by two drummers) to compliment the segments of the video.

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Next stop was eBar, where a couple bands provided the rest of the night’s festival entertainment. I’m sorry to say I was kind of bored by the theatrics of The Medicine Hat and The Furys, who simply didn’t provide the strong songs to justify their powerful stages presences. Long-running, long-beloved Halifax indie-garage drums-guitar duo Cousins closed the night with a lot less people onstage, but a lot more hooks, power, and mosh-age.

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Re-Evaluated // 16 Lovers Lane

April 3rd, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Re-evaluated is a feature in which albums that are under-appreciated get some much deserved love in the form of a little blog write up. Hey, better than nothing. 

The focus of this week’s re-evaluated album is the 1988 classic 16 Lovers Lane by Brisbane’s The Go-Betweens. If you have never heard of the band or the album it is indeed tragic but not surprising – sometimes great bands just never get their due (or it just hasn’t come yet). Basically, The Go-Betweens are like the Australian Big Star: an incredible pop band that wrote brilliant should-have-been-hit songs that simply weren’t. Or at least they weren’t as big as they should have been, as the band did have some success in their home country and their sometimes-home-base of the UK. But here in North America their success and legacy has been, and is, almost nonexistent.

The band’s masterpiece appears undoubtedly to be the last album of the ‘original lineup’, the aforementioned 16 Lovers Lane. The album’s ten songs range from pretty good to astoundingly beautiful both musically and lyrically, but its best songs, like “Love Goes On”, “Your Quiet Quiet Heart”, “Streets Of Your Town” and “Dive For Your Memory”, have the timeless feel of the hits you listen to when first falling in love. They’re so perfect and poignant with lines like, “There’s a cat in my alleyway/Dreaming of birds that are blue/Sometimes girl when I’m lonely/This is how I think about you” and “If the cliffs were any closer/If the water wasn’t so bad/I’d dive for your memory/On the rocks and the sand.” It would appear that the album’s big, beautiful, often tragic sentiments were brought out by the ending of the relationship between one of the band’s principle songwriter’s, Grant McLennan, and bandmate Amanda Brown.

16 Lovers Lane is the kind of album that should be listed in top 100 albums of all time lists. It just has that classic album feel, as though it’s reached that sphere of quality reserved only for the greats. The Go-Betweens made a lot of good music, but none of their albums feel as absolute and perfect as this one. To be fair, few albums exist that do. Please seek it out and listen to it. If there’s such a thing as criminally under-appreciated, this album may be the ultimate example.

“מנגינות ישראליות: “גרמניה

March 23rd, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

Okay, I left Israel two months ago and I have no plans to go back for at least a year or two – I need a break from that crazy country – but every now and then I come back to this song, which in English would be called “Germany”. It’s by an artist named Dudu Tesa who I know nothing about. Honestly, I don’t really care, because I don’t think he’s that good, but the song is very interesting. I remember hearing it for the first time on the radio one day when the army was giving another lone soldier and I a ride to Jersualem from our base in Hebron. I remember thinking that I didn’t like the mainstream-y radio production, but the song’s odd synth-poppyness and its epic, almost suite-comprised construction all were very interesting. It goes from one section to another, new, totally different, a number of times and each is filled with inventive melodies and lush synth-chestra paddings that at times sound Magical Mystery Tour Beatles-esque.

As for the lyrics, after reading them, it seems as though it’s a story about a guy – presumably Israeli – who’s in a relationship with a girl who wants to move to Germany and maybe start a family there. (Note: this is not an unheard of thing in Israel; for a cool, young person to want to move to Germany where living is easier and there’s more exciting culture – despite the history of the Jews with the country.) The guy, however, does not want to move to Germany – very likely because of the historical stuff – and so they’re arguing about everything and it’s not clear if this relationship is going to last much longer. It’s a very interesting example of how the personal lives of Israelis are so tightly and inextricably bound with politics and history.

Re-Evaluated // Songs From Northern Britain

March 6th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Sometimes albums come out and for some reason or other they’re just not given the appreciation they deserve. Or sometimes great albums come out, are enjoyed, but then unfairly forgotten, while others become beloved classics. In this new feature, Reevaluated, I’ll take a second look at great albums that deserve to be remembered and cherished but for some reason just aren’t. This week’s pick is Glasgow-based Teenage Fanclub‘s 1997 album Songs From Northern Britain.

Though Songs From Northern Britain was hardly an ignored release – becoming their highest charting album in the UK; named by Nick Hornby as one of his favourite albums; receiving glowing reviews – when people hear about Teenage Fanclub these days, the album that gets all the attention is 1991′s Bandwagonesque, and mainly because it edged out R.E.M.‘s  Out Of Time, Nirvana‘s Nevermind, and My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless for Spin’s Album Of The Year title, in a choice that today seems ludicrous. While Bandwagonesque is still a great album, today it sounds somewhat tame and dated.

Songs From Northern Britain, on the other hand, sounds like a power-pop lovers wet dream, with track after track of big hooks and gorgeous harmonies. Musically and lyrically it’s better than Bandwagonesque while also featuring better (less-dated-sounding) production, and overall it’s more consistent. Tracks like “Ain’t That Enough” and “Take The Long Way Round” in particular simply glisten with pure harmonic pop glory.

Admittedly the album does sound a little dated – but only a little – and all of Teenage Fanclub‘s singers always had kinda blandish voices. But sometimes great songwriting overcomes all obstacles, meanwhile all the gifts in the world often can’t make up for poor songwriting. Songs From Northern Britain is a stellar case of the former, and should be the album we talk about when we talk about Teenage Fanclub. And we should talk about Teenage Fanclub more to begin with, cuz they were and continue to be a great band.

Obscurity Points // Yukihiro Takahashi

February 18th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

neuromantic

I first heard Japanese electronic/synth-pop artist Yukihiro Takahashi last week when Alex Low (Hellaluya) was DJing Jef Barbara‘s show and he played Takahashi’s “Drip Dry Eyes”. I found out the song using Shazam and later looked him up online.

Turns out Takahashi’s greatest claim to fame is as drummer and lead singer of the influential Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra. However, Takahashi’s been putting out solo albums since 1978, apparently most notably Neuromantic, a solid collection of English synth-pop songs that includes the aforementioned “Drip Dry Eyes”. Though not particularly incredible or unique among the era’s many synth-pop albums, it’s aged fairly well and in the light of 2014′s reassessment of 80s sounds and styles feels like a minor lost treasure.

If anyone wants to recommend other Takahashi (or Japanese rock) works for me to check out or post about in Obscurity Points, let me know in the comments.